The people who run Warner Bros. Pictures live an existential moment. From Discovery’s purchase of its parent company, WarnerMedia, to the ensuing budget cuts and reported losses ahead of Thursday’s earnings call, the studio’s future looks unclear. According to David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, any kind of cultural revival starts with franchises – and involves creating many more.
During that earnings call, Zaslav explained his plans for the company to prioritize its biggest franchises:
Focus on big movies that are loved, that are tentpoles, that people are going to leave early dinner to go see – and we have plenty of those. Batman, Superman, Aquaman, if we can do anything with JK [Rowling] on Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, what do we do with Game of Thrones? What do we do with a lot of the big franchises that we have? We focus on franchises.
“Doing something with JK” could mean that Zaslav wants Rowling out of the show’s theatrical future, or that WB simply has ambitions to negotiate a new contract with the Harry Potter writer. But as it stands, it’s a potentially troubling statement, given the once-beloved author’s consistent remarks that many have deemed transphobic. Zaslav didn’t elaborate on what, creatively, Rowling has to offer the Harry Potter series other than to say the franchise is ripe for a continuation.
Curiously, the CEO also told investors that the studio hadn’t “made a Harry Potter movie in 15 years.” This is not entirely true. WB is technically in the midst of a new Harry Potter franchise right now with the Fantastic Beasts series, which is written and overseen by Rowling herself. But no one, not even Zaslav, seems to care about Fantastic Beasts. (Ouch?)
While the first Fantastic Beasts movie – which of the three released so far is the least directly tied to Potter’s original story – was a hit at the box office, the other two struggled. to win over the American public. The Crimes of Grindelwald could not match the highs of its predecessor in 2018, and Dumbledore’s secrets was a bombshell earlier this year, not even hitting $100 million at the domestic box office. So if that’s what Rowling (and her constant transphobia) brings to the franchise, what’s the point?
The short answer is that Warner Bros. retains the rights to the Harry Potter universe in conjunction with Rowling herself. All future Potter projects should go through her, and her company, as well as the studio. But beyond agreeing to let WB produce more movies, it doesn’t look like Rowling is adding too much value to this series – because right now it’s unclear what the “Harry Potter franchise” ultimately is. Zaslav and Warner Bros. do they hope to bring the original cast back to adulthood, or recast them with older actors to tell a story of the next time the wizarding world is in peril? With the bombardment of Fantastic Beasts and the focus on Harry himself, it also seems WB isn’t as keen on the Marauders prequel – which would follow the generation before Harry during their time at Hogwarts – as fans. have spent years claiming.
The best answer for Zaslav and Warner Bros. is perhaps the most obvious: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The play, supervised by Rowling but written by Jack Thorne (who adapted Its dark materials for WarnerMedia’s HBO), is a sequel to the original Harry Potter story and follows the children of the series’ main characters. The show has been a smash hit since its premiere in 2016 and, thanks to a recent reconstruction of a two-night Broadway event into a one-night show, continues to sell out wherever it takes place. While a film version of the story might cut ticket sales, a sequel to the play, with the kids one step further in their Hogwarts experience, might give fans the perfect mix of nostalgia for the old characters and a new story to dig into.
It’s no surprise that Warner Bros. wants to use franchises to get out of its current hole. As Zaslav himself said, the company has a lot of them, and they are quite popular. Dragon House just wrapped up a massive first season, the return of Henry Cavill’s Superman has the entire internet excited, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that Amazon Studios’ biggest show of the year came from a franchise whose Warner Bros. still owns the rights to the film. .
Returning to the Harry Potter well seems like the obvious next step for Warner Bros., and despite it all, the franchise remains one of the most popular brands in the world. But finding a way to bring that success back to theaters won’t be easy.
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